VIO News Blog

May 5, 2009

Thousands of Marches Celebrate May Day in Caracas

On Sunday, a Venezuelan military helicopter crashed near the border with Colombia killing a civilian and eighteen soldiers, including a brigadier general.  President Hugo Chavez announced that the Russian-made MI-17 helicopter crashed in the mountainous El Capote region while patrolling the 1400 mile border between Venezuela and Colombia. Referring to the latest State Department report on terrorism, Chavez said, “they say that we don’t patrol the border.  How many lives has Colombia’s conflict cost us Venezuelans?”

On May 1st thousands of Venezuelans marched throughout Venezuela to celebrate International Workers’ Day.  In Caracas, as has been the case for the last 8 years, two marches took place simultaneously along different routes.  The larger of the two marches was made up of pro-government unions while the smaller march was convened by the Venezuelan Workers’ Confederation, a union linked to the opposition party Accion Democratica whose past leadership supported the 2002 coup against Chavez.  A crowd of opposition marchers was confronted with tear gas by Caracas police and National Guard forces after trying to pass through a police barricade.

Also on May 1st, President Chavez strongly rejected the latest State Department report on terrorism that criticizes his government for alleged “sympathy” with the FARC rebel group in Colombia.  He also expressed skepticism regarding President Obama’s agenda of “change” for relations with Latin America, signaling that “if President Obama does not dismantle this savage blockade of the Cuban people, then it is all a lie, it will all be a great farce.”  On Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a group of foreign service officers that the Bush Administration’s attempts to isolate Venezuela and Bolivia “didn’t work” and that the new administration would engage in a more constructive approach.

An Op-ed in the Sunday Washington Post, written by Human Rights Watch Americas Director Jose Miguel Vivanco, recognizes that Venezuela has “competitive elections and independent political parties, media outlets, labor unions and civil society organizations.”   However, Vivanco also alleges that the Chavez government has implemented “authoritarian policies” that “undermined democratic institutions” which should be met with declarations of “concern” by the Obama Administration.  It should be noted that Human Rights Watch’s most recent report on Venezuela received extensive criticism from a group of US academics that questioned the report’s methodology.

Finally, a Washington Post editorial entitled “Beleaguered Mexico” falsely asserts that President Chavez backed a left-wing candidate during Mexico’s 2006 presidential election.  The Post’ editors, in keeping with their policy of extreme bias towards the Venezuelan government, reproduce a baseless claim that was first propagated by right-wing sectors of the Mexican media during the 2006 campaign.

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April 17, 2009

Chavez Holds Out for Equality in the Americas

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that while no bilateral meeting between President Obama and President Chavez is scheduled during the Summit of the Americas, if Chavez were to approach the US President, it is likely he would agree to talk, CNN reports.

On Thursday, President Chavez said that Venezuela will vote against the Summit of the Americas declaration, arguing that it treats Latin America as subservient to the interests of the United States, AP reports. According to the Miami Herald, Chavez said of the declaration, that it was “as if time had not passed.”

At a meeting in Venezuela, of ALBA-member nations, President Chavez announced the creation of a new regional currency ‘Sucre,’ which he expects will enter into effect in 2010 as an electronic currency to facilitate trade between the member countries. The new regional currency will provide an alternative to the U.S. dollar frequently used for trade throughout the hemisphere. Chavez added that he hoped other nations in South and Central America would later also participate in using the currency.

An editorial in the Dallas News argues that President Obama should ignore Chavez and try to divide the alliance between Cuba and Venezuela, by opening up trade and travel to the island nation.

Finally, in regional news, Bolivian police in Santa Cruz said they foiled a plot to assassinate President Morales, and while attempting to arrest the suspects, a 30-minute gunbattle ensued, ending in the deaths of three suspects and the arrest of two others.

April 16, 2009

Venezuela Investigates Corruption, Post Finds it Threatening

Today, a Washington Post editorial asserts that Venezuela’s democracy is being threatened. The post claims that while the U.S. media has focused its attention on Cuba, Chavez has stepped up attacks against the opposition in Venezuela. It is important to note that several members of the opposition are being investigated on corruption charges, and that charges against these leaders will have to be proven in a court of law. Furthermore, the cases referred to by the Post were filed by prosecutors, not President Chavez.

Jose Pertierra, a lawyer representing the Venezuelan government, has said that the Chavez administration will soon repeat its demand for the U.S. to extradite Luis Posada Carriles, a Venezuelan citizen wanted in the 1976 bombing in Cuba, AP reports.

On Wednesday, more stories circulated on the new appointment of Jacqueline Farias as administrator of Caracas. In “Chavez’s Caracas Mayor Takes Post, Weakens Opposition,” Bloomberg appears to support opposition allegations that this is a political attack against the opposition. The article also quotes opposition-aligned Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma as stating, “This is making a mockery of the sovereign will of the people of Caracas.” He alleges that the government is trying to subordinate his authority, however lawmaker Jose Albornoz denied that the new law is politically motivated and stated that it will help improve basic services in the city, like trash collection.

Finally, Empresas Polar plans to invest $350 million in Venezuela, Bloomberg reports, despite recent government oversight at one of it’s rice plants.

April 14, 2009

US Coast Guard Respects Venezuelan Sovereignty in Drug Bust

On Friday, President Chavez said he saw “good signals” from the U.S. after Luis Posada Carriles, who is wanted for terrorism in Venezuela and Cuba, was charged in a U.S. court for lying about his involvement in the 1997 bombing of a Havana hotel. Chavez was also encouraged by the U.S. Coast Guard’s cooperation in a large cocaine bust involving a Venezuelan boat off the coast of Brazil, AP reports. The Coast Guard first called Venezuelan authorities to seek permission before boarding the boat. “Now they’re going to turn over to us the boat, the drugs, the prisoners. Those are good signals because that didn’t used to happen,” Chavez said.

On Monday, in a speech marking the seven year anniversary of a failed coup, Chavez said “sanctions must be imposed” on television networks which backed the brief overthrow and staged a media blackout. The AP quoted Ana Cristina Nunez of Globovision, saying that “The president is totally criminalizing the free exercise of freedom of expression.” However, the right to freedom of speech remains strong in Venezuela, with the majority of the country’s media in private hands – most of which remain vocally opposed to the Chavez government.

The Venezuelan government plans to issue $15.8 billion in local bonds to offset the shortfall in oil revenue. An article by Dow Jones Newswire asserts that the country’s bankers will comply in purchasing the newly issued debt, despite the fact that the government “threatens them with nationalization.” However, the government has consistently stated it has no intention of nationalizing large swathes of the banking sector.

Finally, the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra performed to a packed audience at Chicago’s Symphony Center on Friday, receiving much praise in a Chicago Tribune review.

April 2, 2009

Venezuela and Iran to Launch Joint Development Bank

President Chavez arrived in Iran Wednesday and is expected to meet Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today, VOA reports. The Venezuelan president will also launch a joint development bank with Iran with a starting capital of $200 million, according to the AP. Venezuela recently created similar bilateral development funds with China ($12 billion) and Russia ($4 billion), and is also involved in the creation of a multilateral fund called Bank of the South with South American countries.

During his visit to Tehran, Chavez said he had little hope of better relations with the United States under President Obama. However, he added that he hoped that “President Obama is the last president of the Yankee empire, and the first president of a truly democratic republic, the United States.”

At a summit of South American and Arab countries in Qatar earlier this week, Chavez announced that Venezuela would be prepared to receive detainees from Guantanamo. “We wouldn’t have any problem in taking in human beings,” he said. President Obama has ordered the closure of the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison camp which holds 240 inmates, by next year.

Finally, the U.S. Department of Energy reported on Wednesday that Venezuelan oil sales to the U.S. rose 14% from December, despite Venezuela’s earlier promise to OPEC to cut exports. The AP states that a spokesman for PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company, declined to comment. The Venezuelan government has frequently disputed U.S. Department of Energy’s estimates of Venezuelan oil production in the past.

March 24, 2009

Venezuelan Economy Adjusts to Oil Prices

After President Chavez on Saturday announced a series of economic measures to adjust for lowered oil prices, the Associated Press reports that on Monday several analysts warned that the steps would not be enough to tackle the more serious economic problems of inflation and slowed growth. Reuters quotes a Morgan Stanley analyst as saying that, after several years of record economic growth, Venezuela’s economy will likely contract by 4% this year.  However, with over $70 billion in foreign currency reserves, Venezuela is sticking to its plan to invest $20 billion in non-oil sector development projects this year.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Venezuela’s Bolivar strengthened on Monday in the parallel market after Chavez ruled out a currency devaluation.

The AFP reports that President Chavez denied rumors of a rift between Raul Castro and himself, and described such talk as “a little campaign.” The rumor of such a rift was promoted by former Mexican foreign minister, Jorge Castaneda, who later signaled that he has absolutely no evidence to back up his claim.

Honduran president Manuel Zelaya has proposed that the nation’s charter be re-drafted in order to adapt to the “substantial and significant changes” that have occurred since the adoption of the current constitution in 1982. Zelaya wants voters to decide by June 24th whether a constitutional assembly should be convoked. The move would follow in the footsteps of other countries in the region such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

In an op-ed distributed by the Jewish Telegraph Agency, Angelo Rivero Santos, the charge d’affaires of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, responds to allegations of anti-Semitism directed at the government of Venezuela.   Rivero states that “Venezuela’s Jewish community is an integral and essential part of our country’s singularly diverse society.” Given President Chavez’s efforts to fight racism and discrimination,  accusations of anti-Semitism have been “especially painful for the government of Venezuela.”  But Rivero signals that these accusations have been made primarily by organizations based outside of Venezuela and that an organization representing Venezuelan Jews has rejected the claims and expressed disappointment at not having been consulted beforehand.

Finally in an interview by Fareed Zakaria, President Lula da Silva of Brazil was questioned about why his government does not speak out against how Hugo Chavez has “destroyed democracy in Venezuela.” Da Silva responded by stating that “…no one can say that there is no democracy in Venezuela. He (Chavez) has been through five, six elections. I’ve only had two.”  There have in fact been fourteen national elections in Venezuela since Chavez first came to power in 1998, all of which have been characterized as free and fair by independent electoral monitoring groups.

March 18, 2009

Venezuela Prepares for Summit of the Americas

President Chavez said yesterday that he is preparing a strong diplomatic agenda for the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, which he believes will be “very interesting,” according to the AP. The Venezuelan leader suggested metaphorically that he is “getting our artillery ready,” and “we’ll see what the pitcher throws.” The Venezuelan leader — like many others in the region, including Brazil’s president — will advocate ending the U.S. embargo against Cuba, which he called “an aggression against all the people of Latin America and the Caribbean.”

A Miami Herald article argues that recent moves to federalize control of transportation hubs in Venezuela is an attempt to “siphon” power from regional opposition leaders. The measure was approved by elected lawmakers in Venezuela’s National Assembly, many of whom pointed out that federal management of highways, airports, and seaports would boost national security and anti-drug efforts. Key transportation hubs such as seaports are under federal jurisdiction in many other nations including Canada.

In economic news, Venezuela and China have begun construction on a joint refinery in China. The AP reports that Venezuela expects to boost oil exports to  China to reach 1 million barrels a day in the coming years. Also, Venezuela and Russia have formed a joint oil company with an initial investment of $6 billion to explore and develop Venezuela’s Junin 6 oil field.

Finally, CNN reports that several Cuban experts deemed ‘creative,’ and ‘speculative’ a recent, bizarre report by Jorge Castaneda, Mexico’s ex-foreign minister linking Cuban President Raul Castro’s recent decision to oust two top Cuban officials for their plotting against the president – with the support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Even Mr. Castaneda admitted that he had no evidence, and that he was merely speculating.

March 16, 2009

Venezuela to Manage National Transportation Hubs

President Hugo Chavez dispatched the Navy to Venezuela’s seaports yesterday, after elected lawmakers in the National Assembly voted to bring the country’s transportation hubs under federal management. The AP reports that President Chavez said the move is aimed at improving Venezuela’s national security, including counter-narcotics efforts.

A Russian Air Force chief said Saturday that President Chavez offered an island off the coast of Venezuela for use as a temporary base for Russia’s strategic bombers. Yesterday, though, Chavez made clear that there would be no foreign bases on Venezuelan soil, but that he had told Russian President Medvedev that his country’s strategic aviation was welcome to “make a stop in Venezuela.” While much media attention has surrounded Russia’s improved ties with Venezuela, its diplomacy with other nations including regional heavyweight Brazil have been downplayed.

A commentary in the Guardian suggests that, for Chavez, “it was easy to score points, both at home and abroad, by bashing President Bush,” but that this tactic has proved difficult with President Obama, who is popular in Latin America. However, President Chavez does not seek an antagonistic relationship with Washington. In fact, he has frequently said that he welcomes talks with the Obama administration, and believes bilateral ties could improve. Any recent criticisms directed at Washington have consistently been about U.S. foreign policy.

In a Newsweek article by Jorge Castaneda, the author makes the absurd speculation that Cuban President Raul Castro’s decision to remove two senior Cuban politicians from office was due to their plotting to overthrow him, and that such a move was supported by President Chavez of Venezuela. No supporting evidence is provided.

Also in regional news, Mauricio Funes, the moderate leftist and FMLN candidate in El Salvador’s presidential race, won the election with 51.3% of the vote. The victory breaks a 20-year grip on power by the country’s right-wing Arena party, whose founder was associated with some of the most repressive elements in the country’s U.S.-backed civil war. Funes, whose FMLN party has been in the political arena since a 1992 peace agreement, pledged to work toward Central American integration as well as strengthen ties with the U.S.

March 6, 2009

Lula and Obama likely to Discuss Chavez in March

The Associated Press reports that President Chavez has given Brazil’s President Da Silva permission to discuss Venezuela with President Obama when the two leaders meet March 14th in Washington. “We don’t need any intermediary to speak with any government on the planet, but since it’s Lula and in good faith, I told him yes, that I gave him the green light,” Chavez stated. President Chavez has repeated his willingness to meet with Barack Obama to discuss bilateral relations and issues affecting both countries, including the global recession.

A Time Magazine article discusses how Cuban-American politicians are trying to appeal to Venezuelans residing in South Florida, stating that a majority of Miami Cubans now oppose continuing the 47-year long trade embargo against Cuba. Time quotes Republican representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart in a speech to Venezuelans living in South Florida saying, “Venezuelans are under a lot of pressure from Chávez, who is acting more like a dictator every day.” However, domestic and international electoral observers have consistently declared Venezuela’s elections free and fair.

The AP reports that Venezuela has expropriated 3,700 acres of land from an Irish businessman that produced eucalyptus for cardboard manufacturing. President Chavez stated that according to Venezuelan law, the land should be used to grow food. The state will allow agricultural cooperatives to grow corn and beans on the land.

Finally, the Petare district of Caracas reports a 20% drop in murder rates compared to figures from February 2008, according to AFP.

March 5, 2009

Venezuela Questions US Efforts to Prevent Drug Use

Five days after a U.S. report criticized Venezuela’s counternarcotics efforts, the AFP reports that Venezuela’s Attorney General Luisa Ortega requested a visiting team from the US Congress’ Government Accountability Office to allow her “the possibility of carrying out a review in the United States to see if it is fully complying with efforts to prevent drug use.” Contrary to the findings of the U.S. report, Venezuela has made significant strides in the fight against drugs; Venezuela now has the fourth largest number of cocaine seizures in the world. In 2008, Venezuelan authorities destroyed over 220 illicit landing strips used by suspected drug runners.

Bloomberg reports that the Venezuelan government will be expropriating a rice processing plant owned by U.S. based Cargill but stated that Chavez did not say whether Cargill would receive compensation. However, in reality, President Chavez stated that any expropriation would be fairly assessed and paid. The Venezuelan government made it abundantly clear that other Cargill plants would be unaffected. Meanwhile, Empresas Polar, the largest domestic food producer in the country, has called for talks with the government regarding allegations that the company was skirting price controls and purposefully falling short of production capacity.

Finally, McClatchy reports that Cuba’s influence in Venezuela is growing, with Cuban experts now helping the Venezuelan government to improve public education. Friendly relations between Venezuela and Cuba are nothing new. The two countries already cooperate in energy, healthcare, agriculture, as well as facilitating the adult literacy program by which Venezuela achieved the UN Millennium Development Goal of full literacy in 2004.

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